Yousouri (from yuser) is another name for “Black Coral” in Greek. These rare types of corals were used to create beads, objects, and jewelry. Due to the size and prickly shape of their branches, black corals were often feared by divers. They believed that they were sea monster that hit and stabbed anyone who tried to cut their precious branches. What do Greek folktales say about the yousouri?
The Yousouri of Pagasitikos, a Greek Folktale
It was a beautiful day with the sun shining over the calm waters of the gulf of Pagasitikos; the sea that is surrounded by Mount Pelion in Central Greece, with Volos standing as its main port-city. The fishermen and the sponge divers were taking a break, snacking while laying on their boats. But one young man was neither hungry nor interested in making small talk. He day-dreamed of slaying the legendary sea monster of Pagasitikos, bringing its dark tentacles home. He would be greeted like Saint George, the dragon slayer. The men would envy his bravery and the local women would want to marry him. He would be a hero.
What is the Yousouri?
The young man was dreaming of slaying the yousouri, a gigantic black coral that could move its spiky branches and stab any diver who dared to bother it. Not all black corals were deadly creatures – his uncle had shown him his kompoloi (worry beads) that was made of yousouri. But this black coral was different; it was a “stoiheio”, as Greeks say, an elemental entity that haunts a place. It resembled a gigantic squid but it was hard as a rock and had its roots within the Earth.
The Greek diver decided that today was the day he would manage to fight the beast and uproot it. He would not just cut a branch, he would bring the entire coral, which was as big as an oak tree, back to the village. Although the other divers protested, he managed to convince some of them to wait for him while he searches for the black sea monster of Greece.
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Locating the Black Coral of Pagasitikos
Locating the yousouri of Pagasitikos was not as easy as he expected. But when he found it, all he saw was a dark mass at the bottom of the ocean. As he approached, he could see the skeletons of past prospective heroes lying on its thick branches. With his axe, he tried cutting the yousouri from its roots. A loud noise was heard from the depths of the Earth. The diver saw two big eyes looking at him and the branches started moving violently towards him.
The young man managed to avoid each hit. After taking a few breaths at the surface of the sea, he continued to hit the coral’s roots. The yousouri protested but he couldn’t bear returning with empty hands. It took a really long time when he finally realized that the yousouri was almost cut completely. With the help of his colleagues, he tied the yousouri to their small fishing boat and took off towards their village.
They could all feel that they had enraged the stoiheio that haunted the gulf for centuries. The weather was getting worse and transporting the heavy coral was not an easy task. Once the fishing boat finally reached the shore, the yousouri was gone. All they found was a cut rope. The beast of Pagasitikos managed to free itself and sank into the depths of the sea.
A Folktale by Andreas Karkavitsas
This story is a synopsis of Andreas Karkavitsas’ “To Yousouri”, which was inspired by the folktales of people who lived in the Greek countryside at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century. Karkavitsas (1866-1922) was a naturalist novelist and folklorist who told the stories of everyday people. His story is one of the few surviving ones that have helped the story of the terrifying yousouri survive to this day.
The Black Coral in Folklore
It is really interesting to see how a type of coral can inspire people to think of adventurous stories like this one. Black corals, also known as thorn corals or antipatharians, are deep-sea, carnivorous, tree-like marine creatures. Their skeleton is often black but they may appear in different colors. Believe it or not, they are considered animals and not plants. Today, black corals are rare due to climate change and poaching. For centuries, they scared divers and fishermen from all over the world, due to their otherworldly appearance.
Have you ever seen a yousouri or an item made of black coral branches before? Have you ever heard of any story similar to the folktale of the yousouri of Pagasitikos gulf in Greece? Feel free to share your stories and opinions in the comment section.